If you feel like your mental health could use a little boost right now, you’re not alone. It’s a challenging time for many of us. But, luckily for us, there’s an easy way to start feeling better. The benefits of exercise on mental health can be just what we need to lift ourselves out of whatever slump we’re currently in.
Exercising most days of the week is one of the best things you can do for your body and your mind. Wondering what exercise and mental health have to do with one another? A lot, actually.
The Mental Health Benefits of Exercise
The mental benefits of exercise are vast. It’s amazing what moving can do for you. Thanks to the experts, you don’t have to guess how much movement you need.
Activity guidelines tell you the minimum amount of exercise you should get every week. Just 150 minutes of moderate-intensity movement every week or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise is enough to reap big benefits. And if you feel great from that, adding more exercise is a good idea if your schedule and motivation allow it.
At the least, you should strive to exercise three times a week, although five times a week would be a better benchmark if you suffer from depression and anxiety. Regular exercise works better at improving mental health than occasional exercise does. You’ll notice more improvement if you commit yourself to almost daily movement.
Regular exercise may sound intimidating if you’re living a sedentary lifestyle. If you do many types of activities, it will make movement seem fun instead of feeling like a chore. And when you start seeing the benefits of being more active, you’ll be more inspired to continue on your new healthy path.
One day you can take an exercise class, while another you can take a 30-minute walk. Swimming is another great exercise that works your whole body while you’re having fun.
If you’re having a hard time finding the motivation to exercise, figure out your chronotype to give yourself a better chance of success. Timing your exercise correctly for your schedule and your natural biological rhythm can help you succeed in getting those hours of movement in each week.
Trying to squeeze in some regular physical activity before you head off to work in the morning? If you’re too groggy and want to climb back into bed, try a brief cold shower to get you revved up to start your program. Although it might be hard to get in the habit at first, moderate-intensity exercise in the morning can keep those health benefits flowing all day.
Even if you just meet the minimum benchmark experts recommend, here are some of the mental health benefits of exercise you’ll see:
Exercise and anxiety: Mental health problems like anxiety are surprisingly common and can be severely disruptive to a person’s life. Exercise works to alleviate anxiety in part because you have to stay in the moment when you’re exercising. It helps you focus on something other than your worries. Plus, exercise increases the production and availability of feel-good hormones.
Exercise and depression: Research shows the effects of exercise on depression are impressive. Even gentle exercises like walking or cycling are enough to majorly change your mood. Those feel-good hormones, called endorphins, can enhance your mood, improving your symptoms of depression.
- Exercise and stress: Exercise is a wonderful antidote for stress because it reduces some of the negative body processes stress creates, such as tight muscles and a lowered immune system. Plus, you’ll feel as if you’re doing something good for yourself, which can help lower stress if you’re worried about your health.
Other Mental Benefits of Movement
While reducing the risk and impact of depression, anxiety, and stress is a good enough reason to lace up those sneakers, there are other benefits of exercise as well.
You sleep better at night, which can be a major perk for those who struggle with sleep issues. The movement will help tire your body and quiet your mind, so you can fall asleep faster. To reward yourself for making a positive lifestyle change, you can spring for some new eucalyptus sheets that will make you want to crawl into bed each night.
If you start sleeping better, you’ll likely notice even more of an improvement in any depression or anxiety you feel. That’s because a lack of sleep can aggravate both of these conditions while getting more sleep can help alleviate them.
When you start to make exercise a priority, you’ll also look fitter and have better self-esteem. The self-esteem boost can come from losing weight from exercising, realizing how much fitter and stronger you’ve become, or knowing you had the willpower to make healthy decisions. You’ll start to feel much better about yourself and the direction of your life.
Once you begin exercising, you’ll be amazed at how much more energy you have. The more you sit around, the more you want to sit around. The same is true with exercise -- the more you move, the more you’ll begin to miss exercising when you aren’t doing it. Even a short walk can result in a sudden burst of energy.
You’ll also experience improved memory and thinking skills because of the physiological changes in your body that exercise brings about. If you’re concerned about your future health, you’ll love that exercise is good at reducing cancer risk, improving your heart health, and warding off diabetes.
You’ll start to feel like the strongest, best version of yourself. That’s a big reward for a mere 75 to 150 minutes per week.
Move More for Better Mental Health
Mental health issues can feel overwhelming at times. But help may be as simple as making daily movement a priority. It can help take the edge off of the symptoms you feel from anxiety or depression, and it can improve your life in a multitude of other ways. Once you realize all the benefits you’re getting from simple exercises such as walking or cycling, you may be hooked.